Posts by: Matin Durrani

Louise Mayor bags European astronomy journalism prize

Andrew Taylor, Executive Director of the National Laboratories at STFC congratulates the winner of the European Astronomy Journalism Prize 2014. (Courtesy: ESO/STFC)

Andrew Taylor of the Science and Technology Facilities Council congratulates Louise Mayor on winning the European Astronomy Journalism Prize 2014. (Courtesy: ESO/STFC)

By Matin Durrani

If you think that writing a great feature article about physics is easy, think again. You want something that’s pitched at the right level for the audience. You’ve got to avoid jargon and explain technical terms where necessary. You can’t go on and on – you’re not trying to rewrite Wikipedia.

Most importantly, you need to tell a good story and say something new, different and intriguing. And remember, your readers could switch off at any point, so the article has to be well written, flow well from point to point, have plenty of colour and, ideally, have some pay-off or punch-line at the end. No point just trailing off into nothingness. Oh, and good pictures, headlines and captions are a must.

So I’m sure you’ll join me in congratulating my colleague Louise Mayor – features editor of Physics World magazine – who has won this year’s European Astronomy Journalism Prize for an article she wrote for the October 2014 edition of the magazine. Her winning article is entitled “Hunting gravitational waves using pulsars” and looks at efforts to detect gravitational waves using radio telescopes to observe distant pulsars.

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The February 2015 issue of Physics World magazine is now out

By Matin Durrani

It’s now more than 40 years since the last person set foot on the Moon, but since then we’ve come to realize that the lunar surface is not only home to plenty of rare-earth elements, such as lanthanum and neodynium, but also to more than a billion tonnes of water-ice at the poles. Several US firms in fact have bold plans to mine those resources, as the cover story of the February issue of Physics World magazine makes clear.

One idea is to electrolyse the water into hydrogen and oxygen that could be used as a fuel source for operations on the Moon. Even more boldly, the water ice could be shipped to low Earth orbit, where it could be used to fuel space craft sent up from Earth. To find out more about whether those plans are realistic, do check out the February issue, which is now out online and through our app.

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Royal approval for the International Year of Light

Duke of York tries on NPL glasses at UK launch of the International Year of Light 28 January 2015

Seeing the future: HRH The Duke of York at the UK launch of the International Year of Light at St James’s Palace. (Courtesy: Paul Burns)

By Matin Durrani

And so last night to St James’s Palace in London and the official UK launch of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015). The building, which belongs to the British monarchy and has a long history as a royal residence, might sound a rather grand venue for the event – but when HRH The Duke of York is the patron for IYL 2015 in the UK, then who wouldn’t take up his invitation to host the opening reception for the year?

The evening began with a short speech from the Duke of York, who said that he had always had an interest in physics despite not having taken it as a single subject at school – and that he was “right behind” all the activities taking place in the IYL 2015. “The International Year of Light is about how we have used light over the centuries,” he told the 200 or so guests. “It is how we are applying light, photonics and various other aspects in order to make the world a better place, not only for ourselves, but for future generations.”

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Paris ushers in the International Year of Light

Photograph of the art installation "Light is Here" by Finnish artist Kari Kola projected onto UNESCO's Paris headquarters

The art installation “Light is Here” by Finnish artist Kari Kola projected onto UNESCO’s Paris headquarters. (Courtesy: UNESCO/Nora Houguenade)

By Matin Durrani in Paris

It was a grey and dank morning yesterday in the French capital, with even the top of the Eiffel Tower shrouded in clouds – perhaps not the most auspicious weather for the official opening ceremony of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015) here at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Inside the conference hall, however, all was brightly lit. The stage was bathed in beams of light in all the colours of the rainbow as the 1500 or so delegates first watched an official IYL 2015 video and then listened as a series of dignitaries voiced their backing for the initiative.

These included a message of support from UN director-general Ban Ki-moon read out by an official and a video recording from Irina Bokova, UNESCO director-general. There were also speakers from Ghana, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia and Saudi Arabia – the five nations that took a key role in getting IYL 2015 approved by the UN in late 2013.

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Enjoy 10 of the best Physics World articles on light

PW-2015-01-19-blog-select-isotope

Celebrating IYL 2015 with a special free-to-read digital edition of Physics World.

By Matin Durrani

The International Year of Light (IYL 2015), which officially launches today at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, is a brilliant initiative, but if you’re wondering how to find out more about the science and applications of light, then I’ve got the perfect place for you to start.

That’s because Physics World magazine is launching today a great, free-to-read digital edition containing 10 of our very best feature articles on the science and applications of light.

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The January 2015 issue of Physics World is out now

 

By Matin Durrani

The first issue of Physics World magazine of 2015 is now out online and through our app.

As I outline in the video above, this issue looks at the challenges of synthesizing artificial human voices. Another feature explores the little-known Jesuits who boosted astronomy in China in the 17th century. And don’t miss our exclusive interviews with Fabiola Gianotti, who takes over from Rolf-Dieter Heuer as director-general of the CERN particle-physics lab early next year, and with Mark Levinson, the former physicist who directed the film Particle Fever about what particle physicists get up to.

We also have a fascinating feature about how you can help in understanding cosmic rays simply using your mobile phone. While most “citizen-science” projects involve people analysing data collected by “real” scientists, two new apps will let you collect data using your phone itself. Indeed, the people behind one of the apps think we’d need just 825,000 phones to gather as much data as are obtained using the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina.

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Physicists create ‘anelloni’ – a new kind of pasta

 

By Matin Durrani

Rigatoni, fettucine, tagliatelle, penne? We think they’ve had their day.

It’s time to say hello to “anelloni” – a new kind of pasta created by two physicists from the University of Warwick in the UK. Consisting of giant loops, it’s the brainchild of Davide Michieletto and Matthew Turner, who invented the pasta in an attempt to demonstrate the complicated shapes that ring-shaped polymer molecules can adopt.

With its name derived from anello – the Italian word for “ring” – the new pasta is exclusively unveiled in an article that Michieletto and Turner have written in the December 2014 issue of Physics World magazine, which also contains their secret recipe for making it.

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Celebrating innovation

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe celebrates the winners of the 2014 Institute of Physics innovation awards at the Palace of Westminster 27 November 2014

Clever thinking: Baroness Neville-Rolfe celebrates the winners of the 2014 Institute of Physics innovation awards. (Courtesy: Richard Lewis)

By Matin Durrani

“Commercializing physics” is the theme of the November issue of Physics World and it was therefore timely that last night saw a special ceremony at the House of Commons to celebrate the winners of this year’s Innovation Awards from the Institute of Physics (IOP), which publishes the magazine.

The awards, which are now in their third year, are given by the Institute to firms in the UK and Ireland “that have built success on the innovative application of physics”.

Four firms were honoured this year: Gas Sensing Solutions, which makes carbon-dioxide sensors; Gooch & Housego, for an opto-acoustic device that can modulate laser beams for industrial processing; nuclear-power firm Magnox for a clever way of refuelling a reactor at the Wylfa power station; and MBDA for a novel “missile-system upgrade”.

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Celebrating the life and work of John Bell

By Matin Durrani

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of a now-famous paper in the journal Physics by the Northern Irish physicist John Bell, in which he proved that making a measurement on one particle could instantaneously affect another particle – even if it’s a long way off.

Photo of John Bell with apple.

Food for thought: John Bell’s theorem is 50 years old. (Courtesy: Peter Menzer)

As our regular columnist Robert P Crease writes in the November issue of Physics World magazine, that kind of instantaneous effect, which proved the concept of entanglement, was not something that Bell was originally keen on. In fact, Bell had actually set out to prove the opposite – that it was possible, using “hidden variables”, to have a theory of physics that could keep things nice and “local”, and so avoid what Einstein had dubbed “spooky action at a distance”.

But Bell reversed his thinking. “I made a phase transition in my mind,” he told Crease shortly before his death in 1990 aged 62.

Yesterday (4 November) marked the 50th anniversary of the day that Bell’s paper arrived at the journal’s offices and today (5 November) sees the opening of an exhibtion at the Naughton Gallery on the campus of Queen’s University Belfast, from which Bell graduated with a first-class degree in mathematical physics in 1949.

Entitled “Action at a distance”, the exhibition runs until 30 November and promises to “explore Bell’s life and the artistic response to his legacy by artists from across the world”. There is also an accompanying series of lectures from Andrew Whitaker, Maire O’Neill, Mauro Paternostro, Artur Ekert and Anton Zeilinger.

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Commercializing physics: how to translate ideas into business

By  Matin Durrani

Some physicists can get a bit grumpy if talk turns to the supposedly dirty business of commercialization. They go into physics out of curiosity alone and have an innate dislike of ever having to justify their resarch in terms of potential spin-off benefits. But they can be thankful for the overall health and vitality of physics that some brave souls do risk their money and careers by setting up businesses to commercialize their findings.

The November 2014 issue of Physics World magazine gives a taste of some of the challenges in commercializing physics, as I describe with my colleague Margaret Harris in the video above. We kick off with one common problem for hi-tech start-ups, which is how to bridge the “valley of death” – in other words, what to do when your research funding has dried up but you’re not yet making any money from your product. Jesko von Windheim then examines why physics-based firms have a harder job than ordinary businesses, where succeeding is simply about finding a market and meeting its need, before we look back at some promising technologies tackled in Physics World’s Innovation column to see how they’ve fared. There are also some real-life lessons from Floor van de Pavert — a physicist who’s been at the business coal face — and we see how crowdfunding websites can help researchers get their ideas off the ground.

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